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Louisville Youth Orchestra History

The LYO began in the fall of 1958 as an outgrowth of a six-week summer orchestral program sponsored by the Louisville Academy of Music. With Rubin Sher as conductor, William Sloane as assistant, and the Academy's President, Robert French, as manager, approximately fifty young musicians began rehearsals at the Academy that September. By December the fledgling Academy Youth Orchestra had grown to seventy members drawn from seventeen area schools, and had outgrown the Academy's rehearsal facilities. On the 30th of that month the group gave its first public concert in the old Columbia Auditorium. Two days earlier it had made its community debut playing excerpts from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf in a taped performance broadcast on WHAS TV.

Variously known as the Academy Youth Orchestra, the County Youth Orchestra, the All-County Youth Orchestra, and the Louisville-Jefferson County Youth Orchestra, it has finally settled on, and restored, its 1960 name of incorporation, the Louisville Youth Orchestra.


Over the years the LYO has also called many places home: the old Academy on York Street, the Shrine Temple, the Columbia (now Spalding) Auditorium, the old Armory (now Louisville Gardens), the Louisville Convention Center, Atherton High School, and most recently, the superb facilities of the Youth Performing Arts School. It is rare that a youth orchestra can enjoy such a high-quality rehearsal and performance space.

Ruben Sher, the first
conductor of the LYO

The LYO in 1971 at the International Festival of Youth Orchestras in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Melody Welsh and Jim Bates (right) congratulate Daniel Spurlock following his farewell concert.

Throughout its history it has known outstanding Music Directors: Rubin Sher beginning in 1958, Daniel Spurlock beginning in 1975, Jim Bates beginning in 1996, Robert Franz beginning in 2001, Jason Seber beginning in 2005, Deanna Tham beginning in 2016, and Doug Elmore beginning in 2017. These accomplished directors have led the orchestra through hundreds of concerts in the community, on tour throughout Kentucky, to the Governor's mansion and the State Fair on numerous occasions, to Chicago, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Buffalo, Columbus (IN), and even to the International Festival of Youth Orchestras in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1971. They have been the friends and mentors of literally thousands of LYO members.

The orchestra has premiered compositions by Nelson Keyes, Gonzalo Roig, Federico Rojas, David McHugh, Samuel Adler, Peter McHugh, Carol McClure (an alumna of the LYO), Paul Nahay, Don Knaack, and others. It has responded to the batons of memorable guest conductors, including Robert Whitney, Karl Haas, Sidney Harth, Jack Herriman, Carlo Mastropaolo, Akira Endo, Uri Segal, Jorge Mester, Lawrence Leighton Smith, and Teddy Abrams. Guest artists include Paul Kling, Miriam Fried, Daniel Heifitz, Lee Luvisi, Greg Fulkerson (an alumnus of the LYO), Leon Rapier, Marion Gibson, Frank Fuge, Leon Bibb, and Peter McHugh.  The LYO has also been featured multiple on the radio broadcast of From The Top with host Christopher O'Riley.

Robert Franz served as Music Director from 2001 through 2005.

Funding the orchestra has never been easy. In its early years parents and players raised money annually by operating a lemonade and hot dog stand at the State Fair. The orchestra received partial support from the Jefferson County Playground and Recreation Board, and later, the Greater Louisville Fund for the Arts. Today patron contributions, membership fees, ticket sales, the Kentucky Arts Council and the Fund for the Arts all help to keep our ensembles busily making music.

Jason Seber directing the LYO in rehearsal with My Morning Jacket in 2010. 

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